Aluminium alloys during solidification change their density. This process can be conditionally divided into two stages: solidification shrinkage due to the density difference between liquid and solid phases and thermal contraction due to the temperature dependence of the solid density. Solidification shrinkage is the main cause of porosity in castings and also plays an essential role in the development of macrosegregation, whereas thermal contraction is important for the development of hot and cold cracks and is responsible for shape distortions during casting. An experimental technique has been developed and applied to binary Al–Cu alloys in order to quantify the thermal contraction in the solidification range and at subsolidus temperatures. It is shown that thermal contraction of aluminium alloys starts at rather high fractions of solid, between 80 and 95%. The experimentally determined temperature of contraction onset agrees well with the temperature at which the mushy material acquires the ability to transfer stresses. The magnitude of contraction accumulated in the solidification range corresponds well to hot tearing susceptibility of the alloy. Factors that decrease the temperature of contraction onset and the magnitude of contraction, e.g. grain refinement, are also known to decrease hot tearing. The data on the temperature at which the thermal contraction starts, on the magnitude of the contraction, and on the thermal contraction coefficient are used to model hot tearing and shape distortions during casting.